UK Politics

PMQs: Three Cheers for Comrade Corbyn?

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The internet – in case you haven’t noticed – is a very peculiar place to be. First up we have Facebook with its seemingly endless list of genders (I wonder whether ‘other’ is still an option.) Next up is Tumblr, dominated by teenagers whose favourite hobbies include greyscale photographs and reading out of context Wilde quotes. And then we have Twitter which today brought – erm – a sudden outpouring of love for Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s not only Twitter that seemed to have developed a crush on the Leader of the Opposition. As he stood at the dispatch box, a cheer came from his own backbenchers. I can only presume that they are trying to adjust to the fact that Owen Smith really doesn’t stand a chance anymore and he is their only hope.

Simultaneously Twitter got so caught up with how ‘good’ a performance that Corbyn put in that they sang his praises from the rooftops – presumably missing the irony in the fact that they haven’t done this in his whole year as Leader of the Opposition. Better late than never, I suppose.

Personally, I struggle to see rambling as a sign of a ‘good performance’, but that’s just me.  You may have noticed that he didn’t bring anything original to the table. All he really did was quote an array of people in the hope something would make the Prime Minister squirm.

He didn’t saying anything original, he didn’t saying anything new and – in a strange attempt at getting one over on Theresa May – he even quoted David Cameron at her. “Wow”, I’m sure the country exclaimed, “I bet she didn’t see that one coming.”

Deep down, I think him and his Party know that he is still a bit of a shambles, which is why they attack his opponent. The left wing journalist Owen Jones took great joy in taking to Twitter to inform his followers that “Theresa May is pathologically incapable of answering questions. She won’t answer any.” My only explanation for this is that Jones was watching a PMQs in an alternative universe, one in which pigs fly and the cat sat next to me as I write this is actually my pet dodo.

Alas, however, it is not only the Guardian journalist who pops out to boil the kettle whenever our Prime Minister answers a question put to her (he must drink a lot of tea.) Jon Stone writing for The Independent decided to get in on the act, with an article carrying the headline “Here are all the questions Theresa May dodged this time.”

The first one on this list (a list of eight by the way. Once again: no comment) is with regards to one of her first questions; asking her to clarify her position on the single market. May’s reply was in the same style that I have begun to adore:  “I am not going to give the hon. Lady a different answer I gave to the House on many occasions last week”, going on to assert her promise of finding a deal that will work for all parts of the United Kingdom.

Love her or loathe her, Theresa May is no idiot. Just like the rest of us she hasn’t been living under a rock for the past few months, and has seen what happens to politicians of all parties when they don’t keep exactly to their word. She had two options: make a guarantee that she could end up regretting when she realises it’s an impossible one, or promise to look for the best deal. Personally I find the second option much more comforting, and a much more practical approach. Her opponents don’t like it because they miss out on the opportunity to ask “how can you promise that?” every time she appears at PMQs henceforth.

Glancing down this rather bizarre list, I’m struck by how utterly deceptive it is. The most repeated sentence is “Theresa May would not give a direct answer to the question.” You don’t need an intimate knowledge of the English language to understand what this actually means: “she answered the question but not how we wanted her to, so we’re going to moan about it.” Of course she swerved on some questions she felt unprepared for (such as experts who support grammar schools) but we really shouldn’t act as if this is something new.

If May was indirect at PMQs this Wednesday, the new hero of Labour, Jeremy Corbyn himself, is also guilty. He hid behind a barricade of quotations instead of doing what I would have greatly respected him for: using his own arguments as to why they are a bad idea. On the other hand, there was a little bit of smug satisfaction arising from hearing May point out that “It is members of the Labour Party who will take the advantages of a good education for themselves and pull up the ladder behind them.”

So let’s regroup: was Piers Morgan right to tweet that Corbyn “looks a bit more like a leader”? Well, if I’m honest, I must say no. He has clearly developed his research and a certain swagger of confidence at the dispatch box – which is great for us, because we finally have something to engage with – but that doesn’t mean he made much of a dent in May’s resolve.

Complaining that the Prime Minister didn’t answer his questions doesn’t mean anything, especially when you point out – as I have just done – that she in fact did for the most part. Complaining about grammar schools by quoting random sources and sticking a question at the end of it doesn’t mean anything. And bringing a holier-than-thou attitude certainly doesn’t achieve anything but scorn, especially when in such a vulnerable position.

So, three cheers for Comrade Corbyn? Most certainly not from me and, soon enough, most people will be forced to agree.

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